I have feint memories of what my mom did to bring me to church prepared. This took much thought and work before leaving the house. I was young, fidgety, and had issues with attention. I never really saw the work that went into her preparations, but I enjoyed the fruits of her labor (which sometimes was real fruit). At various points of the church service different things would make their way out of the bag. Raisins, grapes, the universal staple… animal crackers. Sometimes it was crayons, sometimes markers, but the activity book always had places to draw. She always knew what to bring and had just enough to get me through the service… so that everyone else could get through the service.
Now that I’m 40, I guess its time to make my own preparations for church. I’ve noticed that we all prepare for church differently. I’m going to point out 3 styles I’ve witnessed (I’m sure you have seen others).
The first group shows up to church empty handed. No Bible, no bag, no books. They pull out their phones, but they don’t have Bible apps or study guides on their phones! You might wonder if they would have come at all if some reason hadn’t dragged them or forced them in some way. Worship starts and they seem somewhat attentive. They may even join in at some point, but with a massive asterisk if they do… It’s not their job to worship. They showed up, and they expect the church to do its job and either worship for them, or create worship in such a way that it involuntarily jump starts their soul into worship without their consent. These are the parents that expect school to raise their children. Trainers must teach their pets and almost everything in life is someone elses fault. They will come to church, but whether they worship or not is the church’s responsibility.
The second group fully intends to experience God, but they don’t always manage to catch Him while He is there. They will sing, pray, listen. But they have to get warmed up. The right songs at the right beat, with the best prayer might just work. Its usually a slow build, but they will get there most of the time. The big difference between the first group and this one is that this group really wants that experience, it just doesn’t always happen. This group will say things like, “I just didn’t feel it that time”. Or, “ohhhh, I got that warm fuzzy worship feeling this time!”. If they don’t experience this good feeling enough, they may start to look for another church home or complain about the song choice, praise team, preacher, etc. Similar to the first group, they may blame others when church feels ‘boring’.
The third group will approach worship like my mom did with me (only perhaps, the more grown up version). They will wake up in the morning with worship in mind. They will pray. They will pack. “What should I bring to worship?”, this group will ask. Bible (or hip phone app), pen and paper for the sermon outline, breath mints for hugs and close prayers with their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Seriously? Why not? Its this type of thinking that allows for the final ingredient. God? Check. Here He is. And then they leave home en route to the church building. This group knows that the house of God is not the church building. They start the day off in preparation of worshiping God and they bring Him with them. How much sense would it make to have a party honoring someone and you don’t invite the person being honored?
This group shows up and has a servant’s heart from the first handshake with the door greeter. They aren’t just ready to start worship, they already have been. And so they interact with family rather than church going acquaintances. They see visitors as potential in-laws (the good kind) rather than strangers fighting for the back pew. And when all are seated and the first word spoken… you are already there: engaged with God, your Father, ready to praise Him for what He has done… and maybe even work out some issues between the two of you.
Worship isn’t something that happens to us, its something we do. It’s an act. Its a verb. It’s a sacrifice of time, emotion, honesty, confession, repentance, acceptance, and so much more. It starts the moment you wake up in the morning and greet your God and, quite honestly, it should finish when you say ‘good night’. If you show up to church and the last time you spoke to God was the last time you were at church… you don’t have the relationship that God wants to have with you.
I had some animal crackers very recently. You never grow out of them. They taste plain at first (no chocolate, no toppings, no fillings, just… animal shapes and carbs). But they are a necessity. They filled a void in my stomach and kept my mind where it belonged. Today, Jesus fills a void in my soul and keeps me close to God. I couldn’t imagine trying to go to church without taking Him with me. Without first talking with Him in the morning. Reading His words, and possibly even singing along the way. He is the reason I go to church, how could I leave Him behind or expect someone else to bring Him?
Worship is intentional, purposeful, specific, and directed straight to God. It’s personal between the two of you. It’s not passive, and it’s rarely done with dry eyes. Even more so, it also involves a community of believers… and if they aren’t seeing genuine Christians delivering worship to a beloved Savior, then I start to understand why they don’t want to be a part of the church.